Our grandfather clock just chimed the hour! Both children got a little misty-eyed when they heard it. The clock is no antique, but it is the venerable survivor of enough mishaps and moves to fill a century. It has stood mutely in our house for two and a half years, a silent reproach to the family that was too busy to do the right thing.
It is so easy to let broken things sit – either because they cannot be fixed; because it is too expensive to fix them; or because there are so many competing priorities. But the non-decision of not fixing something becomes a slippery slope, and it is easy to end up with a house full of things that don’t work – a demoralizing house full of broken things. Thus came about my New Year’s resolution to deal with each broken item in our house and systematically put them all to rights.
We have a window that lost its seal. Condensation that never clears mars the view in every season. The piano, dragged from Prague too many times, is woefully out of tune, and maybe out of life. The stove runs on three burners – close enough for government work, I joke, but why settle for that? There’s a problem with the electrical box and we no longer have overhead lights in the kitchen. I brought in a lamp to tide us over (OK, that was 4 months ago) but in these dark months of winter it would be nice to see the sink.
I know we are hardly alone; every household has its own list. And not everything can be fixed. The ancient printers in the basement are not worth the trouble when a quick trip to any office supply store will get me a far better one well under $100. But it is all too easy to throw things away, an act which deprives us of exposure to the art of repair.
Consider our clock. It predates our youngest child – she doesn’t remember when it was not in one of her many houses. It was a splendid housewarming gift from my parents, and it spent its first year in a newly built and empty house, awaiting our return from Prague. It was the first and only piece of furniture for 16 long months. That alone would be reason enough to keep it in working order, but wait, there is more, much more.
The grandfather clock survived our 4-year-old’s birthday party in which one of her guest’s little brothers unlocked the front case, stepped inside, got trapped behind the pendulum, and brought the entire clock down on top of himself – only to walk away unscathed.
The clock was not so lucky – glass and wood were spewed across the wooden floor, the works seemed beyond redemption. To make matters even worse, the movers were coming the very next morning to pack us up for our next posting in Canada. With great skepticism and much sorrow, we packed up every splinter and screw. Months later, we found a repair shop in Montreal that lovingly reconstructed it. With a heritage like that, how could I fail to make a minimal effort?
Our clock was fixed last night by an experienced clockman – an horologist, I suppose. I had to do the research first. I found his shop and went and talked to him in person, explaining my problem. We agreed to a day and time. Although it was a very snowy evening, he showed up at the very minute of the appointed hour, bringing his black bag in tow, just like a doctor on a house call. He refused refreshment and went straight to the patient. I had the privilege of watching a rare thing – a true artisan who knows his craft. He was methodical and unhurried. At one point the clock was in pieces on the floor; the next minute he was painstakingly putting it all back into place. An hour later, it was up and running. His bill was reasonable, he packed up his bag and with a handshake, that oldest of all customer relations efforts, went on his way. There was no exchange of emails, websites, or electronic clatter.
Thus I have checked the first of 12 boxes for my New Year’s resolution. With the smugness of a convert, I wonder aloud why we didn't do this sooner. Then I see the list of other broken things awaiting my attention, and I know the answer.
Next month – the window!